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Kilimanjaro Trek - Eyewittness Account

The first day was about a five hour hike through rain forest to Mandara Hut at about 9,500 feet. The huts essentially consisted of little A-frame wooden structures, which slept about 8-10 people in bunk-type beds. The second day was more grueling. A steep eight hour hike to Horombu Hut at over 13,000 feet. It wasn’t enough that we were gaining altitude and the trail became steeper. The previous night was miserable – it felt like I had a case of giardia. Besides high fever and chills, I won’t gross you out with the other symptoms of this affliction - ‘nuff said. As I tried to get down some breakfast, an urge - "the urge" -overcame me and I dashed toward the outhouse. Needless to say I didn’t quite make it – ‘nuff said. After feeling completely overwhelmed by cleaning up this lovely mess, I set out on the trail mostly hiking solo as my case of an “over functioning bowel” continued and I was forced to make sporadic dashes to the woods or behind rocks. It was raining, the trail turned to mud and I felt miserable. However, I vowed to be the sickest man to the top of Kili! I took some “plug you up” drugs and trudged up to over 16,000 feet to the hut at Kibo.

The next morning I felt a little better and the weather was much more cooperative. Nigel and I teamed together for the day’s hike. In order to avoid altitude sickness the Tanzanian motto is “Pole - Pole” (Polay - Polay) which means slowly - slowly. It made sense but my climbing buddy Nigel and I figured we really needed to maximize oxygen consumption. We decided to breathe as hard as you through both mouth and nose so you can get as much of the precious O2 to your brain. We combined both and hoped for the best. We arrive at Kibo hut just before sunset.

After a brief dinner, we scouted our view of the summit route. You can see the trail switchback up the mountain from Kibo to the rim of the crater just shy of 19,000 feet. we all hit the sack early. The combination of altitude and exhaustion made sure of it. I would gather that most of us lay in bed for a bit with butterflies in the tummy - Wondering and worrying how the summit attempt would go

It takes about 6-7 hours of hiking to reach the rim. Most everyone leaves about midnight in order to be at the rim for sunrise. For the die-hard summiteers, it is another 200 more meters (600 feet) and 2 hours hiking from the crater rim to the true summit. Half our expedition had set their goal to for the rim (no small accomplishment). Nigel, Annie, and myself were attempting to the summit. We woke up at midnight and put about every stitch of clothing we had on and left just after 1:00 am. Two of our guides Modesto and Chris went with us. It was an incredibly steep climb through loose gravel. Annie fell behind early and took Chris with her. The trail was hard to follow in the dark, but Modesto knew the way. There were several groups ahead of us and we could see the light of their torches (British speak for flashlight) winding up the mountain.

As we followed the switchbacks up the mountain we took occasional rests where we basically lied down on our backs and choked down as much air as we could. After one prolonged rest, Nigel and I waited for Modesto to give us the go ahead. We waited and waited, not too anxious to start climbing again. Finally we called over to Modesto who was lying nearby. “Modesto, Modesto?”…..their was no reply. We called several times. No one was energetic enough to get up and walk over to Modesto. So we lay on our backs and contemplated what was wrong with Modesto. At one point, after practically yelling over to Modesto, we even thought he might be dead. That finally motivated us to crawl over to him and we were honestly relieved that he was still alive. However, he was clearly disoriented and exhausted. Although he was determined to lead on we felt there was no way he should continue. The day before, we had run into a couple of guys who had to turn back because their guide became so sick and they needed to help him down the mountain. We did feel Modesto could make it down on his own, plus there were many more groups coming up the mountain.

After Modesto turned back Nigel, Andrei, and I continued unassisted. It was rather difficult finding our way with only flashlights. All the rocks seemed to look the same. We eventually made it to the rim of the crater and watched a dramatic sunrise come over the clouds at about 7:00 am.